2 gamers plead not guilty in Kansas ‘swatting’ death
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two online gamers whose dispute over a $1.50 Call of Duty WWII video game bet allegedly led police to fatally shoot a Kansas man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges in a “swatting” case that drew national attention.
Casey Viner, 18, of North College Hill, Ohio, and Shane Gaskill, 19, of Wichita, are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, wire fraud and other counts.
Viner allegedly became upset at Gaskill while playing the popular online game. Authorities say he then asked 25-year-old Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles to “swat” Gaskill at an address that Gaskill had previously provided him. Swatting is a form of retaliation sometimes used by gamers, who call police and make a false report to send first responders to an online opponent’s address.
Barriss is accused of calling Wichita police from Los Angeles on Dec. 28 to report a shooting and kidnapping at a Wichita address. Authorities say Barris researched the address Viner had given him for Gaskill and verified it was a home. When Gaskill noticed Barriss was following him on Twitter, he began communicating with Barriss through direct messages in which he also gave him that same old address and dared him to swat him.
“Please try some s---. I’ll be waiting,” Gaskill wrote in the direct messages cited in the indictment.
A police officer responding to the call fatally shot the new resident Andrew Finch, 28, after he opened the door.
Defense attorneys for Viner and Barriss declined to comment, and the attorney for Gaskill did not immediately respond to an email.
Viner and Gaskill have not been arrested and both were instead issued a summons to appear at Wednesday’s hearing. They remain free on a $10,000 bond each and were ordered to find a job and not to play online video games or have contact with witnesses.
Gaskill showed up in court dressed mostly in black down to his black tie and shirt and Viner wore a dark suit with a blue shirt and gray tie. They looked ashen as they sat with their attorneys and respectfully answered routine questions from the judge before quietly pleading not guilty, the only plea the magistrate told them he could accept at this point.
Their court demeanor was a far cry from the bravado of the communications a forensic examination of Viner’s iPhone found after the news of the death in Wichita.
The indictment detailed an outgoing iMessage sent from Viner’s phone in which Viner allegedly wrote: “I was involved in someone’s death ... I got pissed off at him he got pissed at me .. he gave me his address and said pull up and I said I won’t be the one pulling up you’re getting swatted.”
The two men will be living with their parents pending trial, and the judge also forbade them from keeping firearms in the household. He made an exception to the gun restriction for Viner’s father, who is a law enforcement officer.
Barriss and Viner face federal charges of conspiracy to make false reports. Barriss also is charged with making false reports and hoaxes, cyberstalking, making interstate threats, making interstate threats to harm by fire and wire fraud. He was not in court Wednesday.
Prosecutors say the most serious charge of making a hoax call carries a potential life sentence because it resulted in a death, and some of the other charges carry sentences of up to 20 years.
A first court appearance on the federal charges has not been set for Barriss because the Sedgwick County district attorney is going forward first with his case on the state charges, said Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas.
In the state case, Barriss is charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving a false alarm and interference with a law enforcement officer. That arraignment is June 29.